Almost a year ago, a Toronto Star journalist got in touch because (a) I’d been shortlisted for the Leacock prize and (b) she wanted to know my thoughts on four of the five finalists being male.
I can’t say I approved of the resulting article, but at least I got away with the best quotation in it: a reasonable feminist rallying cry and a knob joke.
But a quote is still just a quote. For posterity, here’s the full and blinding magnificence of what I submitted:
I love the Leacock Medal and the books it promotes. I collect those books, read them, adore them. I kiss them right on the foil-embossed medal when nobody’s looking. Part of the reason I submitted A Loose Egg was an ongoing love affair with the work of Eric Nicol, a dazzlingly witty Leacock veteran.
Gender equality is something I could talk about until the cows (or bulls!) come home. But I’ll try and keep it brief for everyone’s sake.
I think there’s a bias favouring men at large in society and male authors in publishing. Men are the default beneficiaries of so much because of centuries of this bias. It’s pervasive and systemic: men are more likely to be encouraged to write in the first place, more likely to be rewarded for talking about themselves and voicing their opinions, more likely to get published (not that I’ve benefited from that myself) and to dominate the book charts.
The bias has manifested itself in literature as the male voice being accepted as the normal or universal perspective, positioning the feminine as some kind of deviation from that norm or as a “perfectly valid alternative”.
As a shortlisted writer, I don’t know much about the Leacock selection process. I’m not an insider. I just put forward my self-published book and hoped for the best. But I very much doubt the committee want to deliberately exclude anyone. The selection bias in publishing and in society takes place long before the books reach the Leacockers.
Just because there’s no one person or organisation to finger though, doesn’t mean the system at large is beyond investigation.
Something any one person could do to help fight the male bias is to read more women writers, to help eliminate the idea that female authorship is any kind of “special interest” field and to help stimulate market demand for female writers.
The gender bias brings up some good absurdities though. Like how could external genitalia possibly make you a better humorist? Mine have got a few good laughs admittedly but I can hardly take credit for that.